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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

TRAVEL TIP: Making Sure You Get Your Money's Worth Out of Your "Budget" Hotel


A few years ago, my mom asked me to arrange a trip to New York for her (note: I am not a travel agent, I was just doing a favor for my mom...please don't ask me to book a trip for you).

"I want a cheap hotel," was the request she gave me.

I told her that "cheap" in New York...especially Manhattan...would be well north of $100 per night if she wanted her own bathroom.  She let me know that would be too much and to find something cheaper.

*sigh...*

An extensive search throughout the island of Manhattan revealed little. The best I could find was the Hotel Penn on sale at $109 per night.  Too much, find something cheaper came the command.

After much bickering and back-and-forth, I found a Howard Johnson's in East Orange, New Jersey for $49 per night (after a senior discount because $52 was too much).

The first night there, "How could you put me in this neighborhood? This is awful!"

She checked out and found better, more expensive, hotel that was more to her liking.

The problem here is that my mom was concerned about one thing, and one thing only - the price.  The money you spend on a hotel is one thing but you need to take in the whole picture to make sure you're getting the best value for your lodging.

What was wrong for my mom? The hotel was in a bad neighborhood and she didn't feel safe. It was cheap, but not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

So don't go on price alone to see if your hotel is a bargain.  Here are some things to consider...

As in my mom's case, check to see if the hotel you're interested in is in a good area. If you don't know what the good and bad areas are ahead of time, check review sites such as Tripadvisor.com and Yelp.com to help you out.


Are the rooms nice and big enough for you? The hotel website or travel sites like Expedia.com and Hotels.com can help you here. Pay attention to the description. Do you sleep on a king size bed at home? My wife and I do and a full size or double bed is just not going to cut it for us, we need at least a queen size to feel comfortable on.  Are you traveling with kids? Check to make sure there will be enough bedding for them too.  Many rooms now include sofabeds that can come in handy for kids to sleep on as well.


Will there be food included? A lot of hotels will throw a few snacks on the table in the lobby and call it breakfast...usually a "continental" breakfast. Some will include a full breakfast with cooked eggs, meat, fruit, breads, and more. In Bakersfield, I can pay $60 a night for a small room with little to no amenities at the Motel 6 or I can pay $80 a night for a suite at Springhill Suites that includes a full breakfast, among other goodies...which one is the better bargain?

Are there affordable restaurants in the area? Within walking distance? A check on Yelp.com will show you a map of the area, the restaurants nearby (with price points), and reviews.


Do you want to swim? It's pretty easy to find a pool in the United States, other countries might be a bit more of a challenge but think twice...is the weather going to be nice enough to pay a premium for it? Is it an indoor pool that might be filled with noisy kids, echoing off of the walls? Can you get a nice hotel without a pool for less? (Also note that in the U.S., at least, it is mandatory now for hotels and motels to have pool lifts for those with mobility issues)

Another consideration is how noisy a hotel is. This may be hard to ascertain before you get there but review sites can help out here. Also, pay attention to the description...exterior hallways are usually noisier than interior halls. A hotel I stayed at recently boasted about its hardwood floors which, we found out, amplified and echoed noise...carpet eats a lot of sound.

Beware of hotels that also "boost" the room to more than it is. A junior suite is usually just a room. We stayed in one that the only thing that made it a suite was a small, 3 foot tall wall between the bed and couch.' We've even had rooms listed as suites where it is just a room. Maybe a bit larger than normal, but just a room. Look for 'two room suites' in the description.

Lastly, look for extras included in the room that will make it cheaper or easier to go on vacation. A kitchenette with a stove and refrigerator will allow you to cook some of your meals, saving money on restaurants. A hair dryer means you can leave yours home...ditto with an ironing board and iron. Is parking included? Is there a resort fee? If so, what does it cover? One of the Holy Grails of hotel amenities is a washer and dryer in your room.

Hotel loyalty programs can come in handy, too, if you find a chain that you tend to stay in more than others. Hilton, a chain we're currently accumulating with, throws in a ever-expanding list of perks as you accumulate points like free premium wifi, free room upgrades, late checkout, free bottled water and snacks, extra points and free nights with extended stays as you work your way up the latter. 

Check with the hotel you're staying at and see about getting a loyalty account. They're free and can add up over time.

These are just a few things to consider when deciding what a bargain is in a hotel. Would a $60 room at the local Super 8 or TraveLodge be as good as paying $80 - 90 for a room that has some or all of the amenities listed above?

Keep that in mind when booking your next room.

-Darryl
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 18, 2017

LAUGHLIN, NEVADA - Part 2


We've been spending a couple of days in Laughlin, Nevada on the Colorado River next to Bullhead City, Arizona. See Part 1 of this report here.



The morning dawns bright here in Laughlin. Our room faces west, so we don’t get the sunrise there plus the heavy duty black out curtains make is seem like midnight until I crack them open a bit to see the sunshine.

Watch the Video!


The family crew slowly rises to meet the day. It’s breakfast at the Riverview Café, pretty much the best food we’ll find this weekend, and then off to the riverfront behind the hotel.



The USS Riverside offers narrated 90 minute cruises several times a day. We’re catching the 10:30 cruise, the first one offered. It’s ramped and wheelchair accessible, though only the interior cabin can be reached with a chair. Large windows there offer good views and the restrooms on board are not accessible…go before you go.



The cruise itself is a relaxing voyage about a mile north of the hotel to Davis Dam, which holds back Lake Mojave on the other side. Near the dam, we see a wheelchair accessible fishing platform jutting into the river on the Arizona side.



After the dam, the cruise goes south of Laughlin to the end of casino row before doubling back to the Riverside Hotel.


We take a drive over the bridge to Bullhead City to do a little shopping and to get some cheap gas. Today, it’s about 50 cents a gallon cheaper on the Arizona side than in Nevada and even more than that compared to California stations down in Needles.


Upon return, we’re up in our room, changing into our swim suits. Our big event this weekend is the Vince Gill concert that will be taking place in the resort’s temporary amphitheater.

The venue is actually some bleachers and folding chairs set up around a stage on the top level of the parking structure across the street. We called ahead and got seats stage right in the third row.



Looking out our windows, we can see the theater across the street. Viewing through binoculars, I see a tall man in a red polo shirt walking in. It’s the headliner, Vince Gill.

Taking a few minutes to see what’s going on, the band takes the stage and goes into their sound check for the evening concert. Opening the window, we can hear as well as see it and are treated to a little mini concert of about 5 songs.

After that, we head to the pool for a little relaxing.  It’s not too relaxing as the water is freezing.

I grab a pizza from the Pizza Hut in the lobby. We eat a little lunch and then Tim and I lose a few dollars at the roulette table while Letty shops.

Later, we go down for a pre-concert dinner. The fans have arrived and the lines stretch out of the Riverview Café and the buffet. Instead, we head upstairs to the Gourmet room… a very nice and expensive spot for dinner…where we dine on happy hour appetizers and have a few drinks.

After dinner, we walk over the bridge to the show. Wheelchair users get priority for the elevator. We have to wait about three loads before we can go up and get to our seats.



Our seats are very close to the stage, although some scaffolding provides minor blocking issues for Tim and me. Letty has an unobstructed view from her seat. We’re even closer to backstage…just an area cordoned off with a small barrier…where we see Mr. Gill getting ready to take the stage.



The show starts and off we go. It’s a very good concert, suffice it to say we’re big fans of Vince, and he plays his heart out for the crowd.



Security here isn’t so strict that they won’t let you take a picture so we get a few…



After the show, we’re able to meet some of the band and then Vince Gill himself.

All-in-all, completely worth it to come out here in the middle of the desert just to see a concert.

The next morning, we have one more breakfast at the Riverview and set out across the desert for the long trip home. Not wanting to hit all the tourists returning from Las Vegas on a Sunday afternoon in Barstow, we detour down Route 66, Amboy, and 29 Palms before joining Interstate 10 near Palm Springs  and going home.

Stay tuned for our Route 66 photo essay as we wrap up our journey.

Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Cocktail Hour - Amaretto Sour


This is the drink to make for that time you don't want a real strong drink.  Lighter in alcohol than drinks such as the daquiri or margarita that we featured.  Way less than the Latin passion...this is a refreshing cocktail that will sit well on a hot day and won't knock you out if you have a couple.

Watch the Video!


Here is the recipe for two drinks:


INGREDIENTS
2 oz. - Amaretto
1 oz. - Triple Sec
4-5 oz. - Sweet and Sour mix
splash of marischino syrup
orange wedge


Fill a cocktail shaker 1/3- 1/2 full of ice.  Put in amaretto and triple sec.  Fill to top with sweet and sour.  Add a dash of marischino syrup.  Shake and strain into old fashioned glass.  Add orange wedge as garnish.


Cheers!


Clearance Wine sale from $4.99 Shop Now


-Darryl

Friday, September 15, 2017

LAUGHLIN, NEVADA - Part 1


The hottest day in my life. On the border of Nevada and Arizona. 128 degrees farenheit (that’s a little north of 53 for my European friends).

We were lucky, we had a boat and could jump in the water at any given moment. The can of soda I left in the car wasn’t so lucky…it exploded and I had a sticky, sweet, gooey mess to clean up.

Fortunately, on this trip, the highest we’d see was 87. The weather was gorgeous the entire trip to Laughlin this time.




Watch the Video!

Named after the owner of the Riverside Resort, Don Laughlin…who sparked a boom here back in the 60’s and 70’s, the town is like the little sister to Las Vegas and about 90 minutes away.

Not trading on the hedonistic reputation of that big city, instead, Laughlin portrays itself as a casual, laid back outpost along the Colorado River. A half-dozen casino resorts line the riverbanks with another, the Tropicana, across the street in the desert.


Our home for this trip would be the original resort, the recently mentioned Riverside Resort at the north end of town.

Laughlin got its start here with a small hotel and casino. There was no road access from the nearest town of any size, Bullhead City across the river, so Mr. Laughlin set up a free ferry service to bring gamblers across the river to his casino.

In the years since, he’s paid for a bridge to span the river next to his hotel making road access a breeze but, in a nod to the past, the ferries still run today. They make for quite a little thrill ride as the operators are intent on making the crossing as quickly as possible.


Today, the expanded resort has over 1,400 rooms and over 700 camping spaces. Along with three casinos (one non-smoking and another across the street), the complex features several restaurants ranging from fast food (Pizza Hut) to diner to buffet to gourmet (The Gourmet Room). There’s a bowling alley; a 6-screen movie theater; concert hall; nightclub; several bars; spa; dance studio; bingo hall; several shops; riverboat cruises; post office; two car museums; and two pools.

The rooms are pretty basic. Maybe just a notch above a TraveLodge. Ours was a two queen room…if those were queen size, I’m George Clooney…with an accessible bathroom featuring a roll-in shower. We had to call housekeeping to bring us soap and shampoo…asking other guests and seeing online reviews, this seems par for the course here. It took the bell service 40 minutes to bring our bags, which still beats the over-an-hour wait we had at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas.

Not the plushest room in the land but it would do. The rate was $69 which is a little more than usual in Laughlin, primarily because of the weekend’s headliner, Vince Gill, would be drawing in thousands of people.


Settled in (finally), we head downstairs where I ask a few shopkeepers and security guards where they like to eat around here. The consensus seems to be the diner, Riverview Café, so we head there and have a pretty darn good supper sitting in front of giant windows with spectacular river views. Prices were pretty reasonable too.


After dinner, we take a quick walk along the riverfront and explore the hotel. Past the bowling alley is a bridge across to the other casino across the street. Upstairs, we visit one of the two car museums here.


There are some very cool cars, motorcycles, and even some antiques gaming tables. A few are even for sale.

An AMX over there, a Studebaker here, and old Chrysler Imperial down that aisle…all stunningly restored.


They do have some competition the next morning when a car club mainly consisting of replica Cobras shows up in the parking lot.


Along with the snakes are a couple of Lamborghini Dinos, one of which followed us into Laughlin yesterday. A couple of owners show us around with pride.

We have a little shopping to do, not enough pillows in the room and we forgot to bring extras, so we’ll cross the river to WalMart, and then get ready for our big event of the weekend.

Stay tuned for that in part 2 of this report.

Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ADVENTURES FAR FROM HOME: Billy at the Lake


It was a tradition when I was in high school and college to get as many friends together as we could, rent a condo, and spend spring break skiing up at Lake Tahoe.  We'd negotiate the fresh and packed powder at places named Squaw, Heavenly and Kirkwood as well as pocket size slopes at Sierra Ski Ranch and Slide Mountain to name just a few.

Our days were filled on the slopes and our nights were filled with debauchery at the local casinos.



A week later, and we'd just go home and sleep for a few days.

One night, we decided to hit the casino. The motels up there had lots of freebie coupons that we'd use. I had one for a free spin on a big slot machine, which won me a roll of quarter ($25, I believe).



I went to the nearest roulette wheel and put it all on black. It won. I stayed and was having tremendous luck. My friends, tired out after the day of skiing, drifted back to the cheapo motel we were staying at nearby to go to bed. My luck hadn't changed, so I stayed where I was.

It was a pretty magical night of gambling at the roulette table. I just wasn't losing. Finally, around 11:00, I made on last bet and said win or lose, this is it. I won again. Around $400 in chips were sitting in front of me. I made my way over to the cashier cage, stopping at a wheel of fortune table where I put a dollar on the 40-to-1 spot. Won again.

I was done gambling but I was too amped up to call it a night. Billy Preston was playing a midnight show in the lounge.

I ran back to the room, woke up all the guys, and told them I'm treating them to a show. A few grumbles but our philosophy was to come up here and not leave any regrets. They came along and we went to the show.

At midnight, the lounge was empty, save for the table with my friends and I and a couple at another table...six people altogether. The announcer came on for what we thought would be a cancellation of the show but, to our pleasant surprise, he introduced Billy Preston.


Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Heinrich Klaffs under CC BY-SA 2.0 license


Mr. Preston came out and if he had any shock or dismay at the tiny audience, he never let on. Just him and his keyboard, no band, he proceeded to sing the daylights out of that room.  Didn't matter if there were 6,000 or only 6...he played the same way.

'Nothing from Nothing,' 'Will It Go Round in Circles,' a whole lot of Beatles tunes (Preston was with them on a lot of their recordings), and...at one point, because he was a preacher at the time...he said "I hope I can just play one song only for you to show you where I am"...and sang a lovely rendition of 'How Great Thou Art'

He was happy, gregarious, and made sure each and every one of the six souls in the room that night had an absolutely great time. By the end, we'd felt we'd been at Billy's house where he regailed us with tales and songs all night long.

I was sad when I learned that the demons had come back and claimed his life but that night I became a Billy Preston fan for life.


Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl
Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Capital Adventure - The Finale


NOTE: If you need to catch up before reading the final report of this trip, use the following links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Today, we’ll drive over to the capital and visit Old Sacramento. We’re staying seven miles east in Rancho Cordova. It’s a short drive to downtown then…

Watch the Video!


Crunch time.  Getting close to Old Sacramento, the traffic comes to a stand still. I can’t believe the place is this popular, even on a Sunday, that traffic is backed up for a mile. We bail out, head to the next bridge north, cross the Sacramento River, and go over into West Sacramento.


Next to Raley Field, we see a large, mostly empty parking lot. There are no signs saying “No Parking” or any other restrictions and about 20 cars are already parked there. It’s just a very short walk across the Tower Bridge to Old Sacramento, so we park and head on our way.


Once on the other side of the bridge, we find the reason for all the traffic.  It’s time for the Sacramento Music Festival, a three-day blowout of non-stop music in and around Old Sacramento.

This isn’t what we’d planned for, we just thought we’d spend some time here, having a few samples at Candy Heaven, and maybe grabbing a meal.

The streets are crowded with festival goers, the shops packed wall to wall, and music coming from here and there.

We do get into Candy Heaven, where you can sample til you’re sick, get some candy and walk around the festival.


There’s a really good high school jazz band playing on the dock next to the old steamboat. An old acquaintance, Bob Ringwald (he’s the dad of Molly), is playing across the street in the Marriott but the showtime doesn’t mesh with our schedule.


We find La Terraza has an elevator so we head up to the balcony for drinks.

The restaurant reserves two of its best tables for handicapped customers so we got a great table outside with a wonderful view.


Some folklorio dancers came up to entertain as we drank our margaritas and ate our nachos.

Quite an entertaining afternoon.

After lunch, we headed back out to Folsom, this time for the town, not the prison.

It’s an old town with many old Western shops along the boardwalks. Usually, this would spell trouble for the wheelchair but Folsom has ramped everything. It’s very accessible now.


In the plaza is an old train turntable, next to a historical museum in a recreated village.


Watching the blacksmith, imagining the old steam locomotives, and browsing the antiques are fun, as is the short hike we took at the adjacent lake.

Dinner would be here at the Fat Rabbit Pub. It’s a pretty authentic English pub, down to the hand-drawn taps of English bitters.


Over a dinner of fish and chips and chicken pot pie, we sip sour ales and English bitters while relaxing after a long day.

It’s a trip that started on the down side, with bloody sheets and a lonely truck stop motel, but turned into a fun, music filled weekend full of wine, history, and old West spirits.


After commiserating over what was and what could have been, we settle in for the night to rest up for the long drive home tomorrow.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Cocktail Hour: Oktoberfest Brews


We love Oktoberfest, the celebration of King Ludwig's marriage, here at The World on Wheels. We make it a point to attend one of our local celebrations each year.

We also love the special brews breweries make for this occasion each year.

One of my favorite selections from the 72 taps of T. Phillips Alehouse is the very well balanced Spaten Oktoberfest. Smooth, a tiny hint of sweetness, with just a hint of caramelly hoppiness, a pint goes down so well any time of year but it's of limited availability.

Recently, we had a barbecue over at my mother-in-law's house and tasted a few others to compare.

Widmer Brothers Okto was nice but a bit blander than the Spaten offering. OK but not worth the extra two bucks our local store charges for a six-pack over the other Widmer offerings.


Next, it was on to the Sam Adams Octoberfest beer (notice the Americanized spelling). This is better. Pretty tasty and I can drink it easily all night but noticibly sweeter than the standard-bearing Spaten.

Last was the Leinenkugel Oktoberfest from Wisconsin. With their overly sweet summer shandies, I wasn't expecting too much from this but it blew me away with just a tinge of caramelly sweetness finely balanced by a decent hoppy bite.  I'd like to find some more of this before the season's over.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Cheers!

Darryl

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Folsom Blues



Due to events beyond our control, our Memorial Day weekend in Lodi has become a weekend in Sacramento instead. Finally getting some quality sleep on the comfortable beds in the real suites of the Hyatt House hotel just east of the capitol in Rancho Cordova, we head downstairs to the bountiful breakfast buffet offered here.


It’s a nice hotel. The suite is big, spacious, comfortable and accessible (note: we opt for the bathtub equipped room but roll-ins are available). The beds are truly sleep inducing and, incredibly, it’s very quiet.


Incredibly, because the hotel is full of 8 to 14 year olds in town for a Little League tournament. Those hungry boys and girls do their best to decimate the hotel’s breakfast serving ability but we’re able to get a very decent breakfast before heading out.


Watch the Video!

The pool and spa have lifts for those who need them but we didn’t try to…after a night of heavy use by the kids, the spa is a deep green and surrounded by yellow tape. The pool looks better but the water’s cold and it’s still full of the kids who turned the spa green.  Better safe than sorry…

Our plans are scrambled so we look around for a new plan. Just up the road is Folsom.  Could it be?


Not well advertised but finally finding it is infamous Folsom Prison. Just inside the outer gate is the prison’s museum.

We park at the visitor’s reception center. Since we’re not going into the prison proper, there’s no need for us to go through the metal detector and be searched.

I notice a limping deer behind our car. I follow him to the gate where a prisoner-trustee mans the booth. He feeds the deer and tells us it’s part of a family that comes down from the surrounding hills for a free handout.


In the small museum, the exhibits run from the gruesome...a well-used hangman’s noose and a collection of shanks…to the kitschy…we documented pictures, CDs, and even dolls dedicated to the two concerts performed here by Johnny Cash.

A replica cell is located in the back and the volunteer on duty points out to a visitor, “you know my uncle Chuck that works here? He was stabbed in the neck one time by an inmate. That’s the knife up there,” she points out on the wall of prisoner-made shanks on the wall.


The docents also point out the best spot where we can legally take pictures of the prison’s imposing stone walls, gates, and tower. Another engages me in a long conversation about earlier prison industries and entertainments…most of which are long gone. The only industry left is the metal shop that makes all of California’s license plates.

Out of prison, we continue back up the road to Amador County and follow the maze of backroads until we get to Story Winery.


Sitting on a hillside at the top of Consumnes River Canyon, the winery is having special tastings and live music for Memorial Day weekend. We’d stopped at Andrae’s Bakery in Amador City on the way up to pick up some bread and cheese for a picnic.


The band, 30 Years After, is playing a selection of Credence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Eagles, and other 60s and 70s music. Someone in the crowd heckled up that maybe they should be called 40 Years After.

It’s very relaxing sitting on the deck, enjoying our picnic with the winery’s outstanding zinfandel.


Down the hill, it’s back to Lodi for Saturday night in downtown where I find this perfect Austin Healey.

A stroll around the area, doing a little window shopping, before ending this evening with another dinner at Lodi Beer Company, having some samplers and comparing notes with the table next to us.

Tomorrow, we’ll conclude this trip by doing some historical touring before heading down into the capital for some candy. We’ll see you then.

Hand Picked Special Occasion Wines delivered to your door.- Wine of The Month Club

Darryl
Copyright 2013 – Darryl Musick

All Rights Reserved